Luna sticks close to education task force's proposal in newest budget

broberts@idahostatesman.comOctober 1, 2013 

State schools chief Tom Luna stuck close to the education reform road map laid out by a statewide task force as he made public his 2014-2015 budget Tuesday, seeking a career ladder for teachers and restoring dollars districts lost during the recession.

Luna also proposes helping juniors and seniors pay for dual-credit classes that could earn them college credit before graduation, and beefing up professional development for teachers as Idaho Core Standards make their way into classrooms around the state this year.

Luna proposed a $1.37 billion budget, up 5.9 percent from this year. It would be the highest percentage-point increase since 2008 and the largest dollar amount spent on public education since 2009.

In August, Gov. Butch Otter's Task Force for Improving Education produced 20 recommendations such as improving teacher compensation and requiring students to show mastery in a subject before moving onto another one.

Luna, a member of the task force, said money isn’t the only solution to putting the recommendations into place. Stakeholders also need to discuss changes to the education system that don't have large price tags.

"This whole package needs to be implemented," he said. "This isn't a buffet."

Luna’s education budget isn’t the only one lawmakers will consider when they meet in January. Otter will also present a budget, with his vision of how taxpayer money should be spent.

Luna said he did not review his newest budget with the governor. But Otter has endorsed the task force’s recommendations.

Other Luna budget highlights:

Career ladder: $42.2 million for a down payment on boosting teacher salaries as part of a career ladder that would reward teachers for improving student performance, classroom management and educational leadership. It would eliminate paying teachers based on length of service or additional education. Total cost of putting a career ladder in place could be $250 million over six years, including raising beginning teacher salaries from $31,000 to $40,000. Luna, following task force recommendations, proposes to increase beginning salaries for 2014-2015 to $33,000. Details of a career ladder have not been worked out yet.

Restoring revenue: $16.5 million for the first installment of replacing the $82.5 million districts lost during the recession. Luna says the money, which is used to keep school doors open, pay the electric bills and pay district health insurance premiums, would not come with any additional restrictions.

Getting a jump on college: Giving high school juniors up to $200 and seniors up to $400 to apply toward the cost of taking college level courses while in high school. The proposal is based on a bill state Sen. Steven Thayn, R- Emmett, expects to introduce in the 2014 session. The proposal would increase funding to help pay for dual credit by $5 million.

Teacher education: $12.2 million to help with teacher professional development, up $8.4 million from this year. "I can't say enough about professional development," Luna said. "That $12.2 million is ongoing. I would anticipate it would go up."

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